It was sore luck for him, all right, and the first time I haplessly asked to see a baby picture of him or one as a child, his mood darkened and he mumbled something about not having any to show. “No one took any pictures!” he said, kissing the threshold of tears. I asked him why and he shrugged. I dropped the subject but started to consider it myself. I knew his family was in transition when he was a small child. His dad moved the family to Arizona for a few years where he could find some steady work. It wasn’t until Billy was six or seven that they settled back into their home in St. Elmo, and I wondered if the school he attended in his hometown of nine hundred had simply given up the age-old practice of school pictures.
On our way back to Los Angeles when we visited Billy's family, I broached the topic with his mom; not born of confrontation but I just thought maybe Billy didn’t know there may have been snapshots lying around.
“What?” he asked with a suspicious grin as he rounded the corner and caught us talking.
“He’s just asking about your baby pictures,” his mom said.
“What baby pictures?” Billy asked and he brightened for a moment in a flash of expectation.
"Well there are none," his mom said with a quick nod, and Billy looked disappointed all over again.
It was a sore subject with Billy and he wore a lifelong band-aid on it. The wound was deeper than just a lack of photos; it lent credence to the cruel assertion of his hateful sister, Debbie, that Billy was adopted. She taunted and tortured him with that fable for most of his childhood, so much so that it became part of his permanent sadness - that part that everyone carries around with them in one way or another. She hurt Billy in so many ways and if I ever meet her, she's going to be wearing a big red handprint of mine across her right cheek.
When Billy returned to St. Elmo to be best man at Chris' wedding, the same trip where Ludlow became inextricably tied to the word "love" in our home, Dixie found a picture of Billy with his daddy and his dog. He talked a lot about that dog over the years, and I knew how much he loved his dad, and I told him I couldn't wait to see it. I think having that picture cleared some smoke for him - it was Billy and his daddy and his dog.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and for Billy, this picture was just enough to make him believe he was, without a doubt, a Ledbetter.